Proposal would keep Hoosiers in the dark

State Rep. Jeff Ellington wants to change the law so people who donate to political campaigns no longer need to reveal their addresses. This is a truly bad idea. Indiana should be collecting and disclosing more, not less, information about the people who finance elections.

Ellington, a Bloomington Republican, is all worked up about the idea that people could “target” individuals who have donated to certain candidates. He’s mimicking the right-wing outrage machine, which has spun into overdrive since Texas Congressman Juaquin Castro tweeted the names of 44 residents in his district who contributed the maximum allowed to President Donald Trump.

Ellington told the Bloomington Herald-Times that the tweet “will likely get someone hurt.”

News flash: Castro didn’t disclose the identity of the donors. The Federal Election Commission did, just as it has disclosed campaign finance information for decades. Anyone could look it up and share it.

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Group that DeVos led spending big on elections

The organization formerly led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is spending at least $325,000 this year to keep the Indiana General Assembly in Republican control.

The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, the American Federation for Children, doesn’t give directly to candidates or parties but funnels its largesse through state partners. In Indiana, that’s Hoosiers for Quality Education, which has led the push for private-school vouchers and charter-school expansion.

Indiana Statehouse

The federation’s political action fund gave Hoosiers for Quality Education $325,000 in three big contributions in 2018, according to campaign finance reports filed this month. That’s about half the money the Indiana-based group received this year.

In turn, Hoosiers for Quality Education has handed out $575,000 this year, nearly all of it to the campaigns of Republican candidates for the Indiana House and Senate. It’s sitting on a cash balance of $170,000 that can be parceled out between now and Election Day if needed.

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DeVos money big in Indiana politics

News stories about Betsy DeVos, selected by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next U.S. secretary of education, often say she’s not well known outside of Michigan. But you can bet Indiana Republican legislators know who she is. DeVos money has been key to building the state’s GOP super-majority.

Betsy DeVos chairs the American Federation for Children, which promotes private school vouchers and deregulation of charter schools. According to campaign finance reports, she and her husband and their adult children have given the group’s political action committee over $1.4 million since 2010.

The American Federation for Children PAC also has had big contributions from for-profit charter school companies, hedge fund managers and the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart.

The federation funds school choice initiatives in several states. In Indiana, its on-the-ground affiliate is Hoosiers for Quality Education, formerly Hoosiers for Economic Growth. American Federation for Children has given the advocacy organization $1.2 million since 2010, according to campaign reports.

Hoosiers for Quality Education in turn helped fund the campaigns of Republican candidates for Indiana superintendent of public instruction: It gave $90,000 to Tony Bennett’s losing campaign in 2012 and $130,000 to Jennifer McCormick’s successful campaign this year. But the bulk of the $3 million it has spent on Indiana campaigns since 2008 has gone to GOP candidates for the state House and Senate. Typically, the money is targeted to contests that could be competitive.

Fred Klipsch, the founder of Hoosiers for Quality Education, boasted at an American Federation for Children-sponsored policy summit in 2012 that the group and its allies had spent $4.4 million to push an agenda of vouchers, expanded charter schools and other reforms through the state legislature. Continue reading

School voucher backers help oust pro-union Republican

State Sen. John Waterman is as solid a conservative as you’ll find: a former sheriff who is tough on crime, 100 percent pro-gun, stingy with money and endorsed by Indiana Right to Life. He has just one flaw, and for a Republican politician, it’s fatal. He supports unions, including teachers’ unions that back public schools.

That was enough to get him taken out in last week’s GOP primary after representing his rural Western Indiana district since 1994. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce put a target on his back, ostensibly because he voted against the so-called right-to-work law that Indiana adopted in 2012. The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity threw in with undisclosed funding for ads.

But key money – big, late contributions that may have helped push his opponent, Eric Bassler, over the top – came from forces whose agenda is promoting private school vouchers. Bassler won with 51.3 percent of the vote, even though the Senate Republican caucus backed Waterman.

Bassler got $15,230 in the week before the election from Hoosiers for Economic Growth, which is not funded by Hoosiers and doesn’t focus on economic growth. It functions as the Indiana arm of American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher group led by mega-donor Betsy DeVos.

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Pence on vouchers: strong rhetoric, weak on evidence

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered a passionate speech in support of private-school tuition vouchers Monday at a Washington, D.C., policy summit sponsored by the American Federation for Children. But the data he used to make his case were pretty flimsy.

Pence cited improvement in Indiana public school test scores and high-school graduation rates between 2006-07 and 2011-12 to argue that “competition works,” improving performance across the board. But Indiana didn’t create its voucher program until 2011. Almost all the improvement came before that, when public schools enjoyed a supposed monopoly on taxpayer-funded education.

Passing rates on ISTEP-Plus English and math exams increased from 63.9 percent in 2006-07 to 70.2 percent in 2010-11; then they climbed to 71.5 percent the first year of vouchers. Graduation rates rose from 77.7 in 2006-07 to 86.8 percent in 2010-11, then inched up to 88.4 percent in 2011-12.

Arguing that vouchers caused competition which caused the improvement doesn’t make sense. If anything, the data suggest Indiana schools were doing just fine without vouchers.

Data and logic aside, Pence’s speech had a lot going for it. He made clear he’s no Johnny-come-lately to the cause, giving props to the godparents of the movement, the late Milton and Rose Friedman, Continue reading

More on the money behind the Indiana school-voucher law

Hoosiers for Economic Growth chairman Fred Klipsch explained recently how his organization and several affiliated groups spent $4.4 million to push through the education policies that Indiana adopted in 2011, including a huge voucher program, expansion of charter schools and anti-union measures.

Klipsch spoke in May at a national policy summit in Jersey City, N.J., hosted by the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, organizations that promote taxpayer funding of private schools.

You can download a PowerPoint of Klipsch’s presentation from the website of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. You can also watch a video of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett receiving the John T. Walton Champion of School Choice Award at the summit.

Hoosiers for Economic Growth spent almost $1.3 million during Indiana’s 2010 election cycle, most of it targeted to producing a Republican majority in the Indiana House. Organizations like School Choice Indiana and Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Aiming Higher also contributed to the effort, according to Klipsch’s presentation.

The goal was to overcome what Klipsch referred to as “the problem” – the Indiana State Teachers Association, which his presentation calls “the most powerful political force at the Statehouse and at the ballot box” and “the biggest spender by far” in Indiana politics.

The ISTA’s political action committee, the Indiana PAC for Education or I-PACE, spent $792,683 in 2010, Continue reading

Bloomberg, voucher advocates putting up money for Bennett

Look who’s deploying some of his considerable financial clout to influence who we Hoosiers elect as superintendent of public instruction this fall. It’s billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $40,000 last month to the re-election campaign of Republican Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Bloomberg, as mayor, has championed some of the same policies that Bennett has pushed in Indiana: more charter schools, test-based evaluations of teachers, etc. But it’s not like Bennett needs the money. He’s sitting on more than a half million dollars, and there’s no way his Democratic opponent, Glenda Ritz, will ever come close to that.

Ritz, an elementary school teacher in Washington Township schools on the north side of Indianapolis, did get $30,000 last month from the political action committee of the Indiana State Teachers Association. Well, it’s a start.

Bennett, meanwhile, got June campaign contributions of $25,000 from Merrillville hotel developer Dean White, $50,000 from charter school founder Christel DeHaan and $25,000 from Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Aiming Higher PAC.

On June 29, the same day he recorded the Bloomberg donation, Bennett also got $25,000 from Hoosiers for Economic Growth. As School Matters reported previously, the money behind HEG doesn’t come from Hoosiers and it has nothing to do with economic growth. Continue reading

Follow the money – to Harrisburg, Pa.

The Philadelphia Inquirer had a revealing article last week about the millions of dollars that activists are spending to persuade Pennsylvania lawmakers to adopt a school-voucher program similar to the one just approved in Indiana.

“From Pittsburgh to Harrisburg to Montgomery County to West Philadelphia, the money is paying for lobbyists, renting rally buses, printing pamphlets, even buying bright red backpacks for pupils,” report John P. Martin and Amy Worden. “It has flowed — sometimes in five- and six-figure checks — to legislators’ campaign coffers. And it has funded an unusual wave of attack ads, mailers, and websites against lawmakers who are undecided or opposed to vouchers.”

The Pennsylvania story features the same plot line and characters as the one that played out in Indiana. At its center is the American Federation for Children, a pro-voucher organization whose political action committee shares an address with Terre Haute, Ind., Republican super-lawyer James Bopp.

School Matters reported in February on AFC and its role in bankrolling the voucher cause through big contributions to Republican legislative candidates. The organization’s board of directors includes a Walton family member, a former head of the Michigan Republican Party and a couple of directors of Democrats for Education Reform.

FreedomWorks, the Tea Party group headed by former House Republican Leader Dick Army, also is involved in the Pennsylvania voucher effort. Another player is Pennsylvania Students First, not to be confused with StudentsFirst, the organization started by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee (although Rhee now also backs vouchers).

It sounds like Senate Bill 1, the Pennsylvania voucher bill, is very similar to House Bill 1003, the voucher bill that the Indiana legislature passed in near-party-line votes. As in Indiana, lawmakers in Pennsylvania sold vouchers as a way to help poor kids escape failing schools but introduced a bill that gives vouchers to middle-class parents.

For a detailed look at the pro-voucher money machine – how the American Federation for Children PAC collects tons of money from a handful of rich ideologues and funnels it to activist groups in several states – see Rachel Tabachnick’s article on the website Talk to Action. Who knew that AFC head Betsy DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, the founder-owner of the private military company formerly known as Blackwater?